Legal Kill – King’s X (1990, Faith Hope Love)

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Part Two of “Hot Topic Songs” addresses the issue of abortion.  If homosexuality is a polarizing topic, then this might be the only issue even more divisive in our culture today.  Imagine, then, the idea of writing an artistically crafted, beautiful song about it.  At first, it sounds like a terrible pairing; but then, after some good thought we realize that maybe there is power in the idea of sending the right message at the right time for the right reasons.  A song carries a weight that few other forms of communication possess.

The crux of the debate surrounding abortion is that it is ultimately an argument over life and death – even for the pro-choice person.  No matter when you or I believe life truly begins our society must decided and regulate exactly when we go from right to murder and from choice to child.  Today, an American court/jury decided that one abortion doctor (Dr. Kermit Gosnell) was guilty of murder because of his handling of certain late-term abortion botches.  So, clearly no matter where you land on this issue, we cannot deny the fact that we are governing the sanctity of human life in our opinions and laws.

The truth in this matter is simply this: according to the Bible, God created each human life/essence/person-hood/being even before any one of us were conceived.  He knew us and formed us before egg and sperm ever existed.  Who are we to challenge that authority?  Who are we are to toy with the idea that a life in the womb is somehow less valuable than any other life?

If biblical standards are indeed the absolute truth on this matter, then it is indeed a modern day holocaust that we have on our bloody hands.  It is never easy to digest this reality.  But I propose a song here that has struck a cord with my heart on the matter of abortion in the strongest way possible.

King’s X is a longstanding hard rock group with great acclaim and who have shown Christian values in their music, particularly in the early years.  I cannot speak positively about all of their convictions.  Whatever the case may be, this ballad stands alone as one of the best songs ever written about the atrocity that is abortion, listen:

I only know what I believe
The rest is so absurd to me
I close my eyes so I cant see
But the picture just gets clearer everyday

I read somewhere to learn is to remember
And I’ve learned we all forgot
There was peace in her before
But that was yesterday

But I can see the beauty that is here for me
The chance to live and walk free
From a legal kill

I know your side so very well
It makes no sense that I can tell
The smell of hell is what I smell
And you hand it out with handshakes everyday

I have trouble with the persons with the signs
But I feel the need to make my own
Yes there are two ways to be
And truth does not depend on me
But I can feel the fight for life is always real
I can’t believe its no big deal
Its a legal kill

I appreciate so many things from this song that I will simply list them:

1. Despite how angry abortion can make us feel (really on both sides of the issue) this song achieves a sense of calm beauty, clear reflection and poignant logic.  There are too many mad, sign-carrying vigilantes out there who really aren’t helping their cause.

2. The singer realizes how blessed he is to have the gift of life.  Like me and many of you, these guys were born in a world where most places have legalized abortion.  I survived Roe vs. Wade because I was lucky enough to be born by a mother who wanted to keep me around (Happy Mother’s Day, mom!).  There are millions of people (yes, people) who have not been so fortunate.

3. The singer remembers the forgotten player in all our bickering over abortion: the women who have been through it.  There is sympathy and concern for how these women have had to deal with the reality of their decisions.  It is incredibly difficult to be a woman with a pregnancy that she is not prepared for.  Most of us never see how much hurt and shame they have to deal with for the rest of their lives.

4. The singer finally reminds us all that truth depends on someone other than us.  Implying God and His sovereignty and justice; and how one day He will make things right for the innocent who cannot even speak for themselves or cry for help.  If you listen carefully, at the end of the song the tune for “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” is played briefly – highlighting the lyrics: glory to the newborn.  What an amazing, yet subtle reminder that Christ can redeem all of our murder and ignorance and that even He came to Earth as a fragile baby in order to save us!  Powerful use of medley.

There is so much to be done on this matter: standing up for truth, trying to change our laws, helping troubled, pregnant women, etc. No matter who you are, you can make a difference!

This truth and this tune reminds us that we cannot stay numb and we cannot stand still and allow this legal kill.  Enough is enough!

What Matters More – Derek Webb (2009, Stockholm Syndrome)

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Today’s post marks the beginning of a new series (throughout the month of May) for Truth In Tunes entitled: Hot Topic Songs.  The goal will be to explore music that covers important social/spiritual issues of today.  And our first entry comes out of the gate firing on all cylinders – even addressing two hot topics at once: cursing & homosexuality.

A brief reintroduction of the artist – Derek Webb (who I’ve blogged about before) is a pioneer among Christian artists today.  He continues his involvement in the popular band, Caedmon’s Call.  His work with Noisetrade is also worth mentioning, as it serves as one of the best ways for artists and listeners to connect directly and appropriately.  He has been writing music for a long time, including solo projects for the last decade.

“Stockholm Syndrome” was indeed a controversial album, both in content and style.  Webb explored a more techno-based sound, which was a departure from his folk music orientation. But the real “Daniel” moment came when he included a song on the album that was so polarizing, the record label took it off the album.

The song includes what I would consider some mild curse words, so use your own discretion as you read/listen to “What Matters More” by Derek Webb:

you say you always treat people like you’d like to be
i guess you love being hated for your sexuality
you love when people put words in your mouth
about what you believe
make you sound like a freak

‘cause if you really believed what you say you believe
you wouldn’t be so damned reckless with the words you speak
you wouldn’t silently consent when the liars speak
denying all the dying of the remedy

tell me, brother what matters more to you
tell me, sister what matters more to you

if i can see what’s in your heart by what comes out of your mouth
then it sure looks to me like being straight is all it’s about
yeah it looks like being hated for all the wrong things
like chasing the wind while the pendulum swings

‘cause we can talk and debate till we’re blue in the face
about the language and tradition that he’s coming to save
and meanwhile we sit just like we don’t give a shit about
fifty thousand people who are dying today

There is much to say here about this song and the topic of homosexuality, so please bear with me.  First, about Derek Webb and the song, here is a helpful interview that he did explaining the song and the album.  It would be important to consider his own words before making any judgments.  The bottom line is that Webb felt strongly about saying something to the Christian community about how many of us have been treating the gay/lesbian community in recent times.  The song is a challenge to ask ourselves what we value more: being right or being Christ-like?  As Webb has stated many times, he is not commenting on the morality/theology of the issue of homosexuality, but rather he is expressing his frustration with the lack of compassion and love that homosexual people have received from the Christian community.

The response to his song from the Christian world proved his perception on the matter.  The blogosphere ripped him for using curse words in a “Christian” song.  Christian leaders criticized him for not clearly stating the biblical stance on homosexuality being a sin.  Meanwhile, the last verse of “What Matters More” proves itself over and over again by the general response the Christian world gave to Webb’s controversial tune.

Here we are, only three or four years later, and the state of affairs in Christianity (particularly in America) as it regards homosexuality has only gotten worse.  One of our most prominent preachers, Rick Warren, has gently but clearly taken a stand against homosexuality.  Recently, when his mentally-ill son committed suicide, some members of the gay-lesbian and liberal communities lashed out against Warren with cruel criticism and heartless words amidst his time of grief and loss.

When our country passes new laws giving rights to gays, the social media outlets are flooded with Christian one-liners condemning homosexuality and people declaring that our nation is heading to hell.  Not once, have I read a Christian tweet or status offer any sort of balanced perspective on the issues with a tone of kindness and respect.

Sports stars are starting to reveal their gay status publicly and when one sports analyst simply stated the balanced, appropriate Christian response to homosexuality he was labeled as intolerant and ESPN was forced to apologize for him.

Are these examples of how evil the world is and how Christians are hated because we represent Christ and truth?  That is a difficult question to answer.  In one sense, the Bible says it will be this way for true believers, but I do not feel that this represents the whole story of what we are seeing today.  In fact, I would go as far as to say that the main reason why Christians who stand against homosexuality in America are hated so much is because we hated homosexuals first.  Maybe Rick Warren and ESPN analyst Chris Broussard aren’t personally represented in that statement, but the general Christian community certainly is and all of us have caught the fury of the world’s outcry against our lack of love.

Back to our song of the week: here is an artist expressing his frustration with his brothers and sisters in Christ for not loving sinners better and here we are, simply missing the message and continuing to draw battle lines with a dying world – as if the time to love like Christ is over and Armageddon is upon us.  The simple truth is we need to ask ourselves whether or not each of us is balancing the volume of our Christian messages of truth, love, grace and holiness.  Some voices have been too loud for too long, while other voices have only been whispers at best.

There is a big difference between denying biblical truth about sexual sins and reaching out to sinners with the grace of God without condemning them first.  It is NOT loving to just tell someone he/she is broken and condemned while we keep our distance, never learning what it is like to step into their shoes and feel their struggles.

So, did Derek Webb cross the line with this tune?  If Derek Webb were an established local church, then yah, perhaps he did.  But Webb is just a person, an artist, and one brother in Christ speaking out to the rest of us with a tone that, frankly, we needed to hear.  The real question is whether or not you and I listen to this song and become more bothered by our own lack of compassion to homosexuals rather than the song itself.  Do we care more about him saying “shit” in a song or about our own heart attitude towards that gay coworker, neighbor and relative?

The real question for all of us is: what matters more?  Who did Jesus condemn and yell at? Religious leaders.  Who did Jesus eat with, teach, heal and love into the truth of His Gospel? Sinners, of which we, brothers and sisters, are foremost – even now.

Conclusion: Yes, of course, the Bible clearly teaches that homosexuality, along with any other sexual sin, is wrong.  Anyone who says that the Bible teaches differently is simply missing the truth.  And, yes, it’s OK for Christians to make absolute statements like that, because it is our core doctrine that the Bible is the only source of ultimate truth and wisdom.  HOWEVER, (please, please listen to this part) the WHOLE truth goes on to embrace the love and grace of Jesus who calls us to reach out to all people in relationship and mercy.

I am grateful to Webb for shaking me up in my own complacency and insensitivity towards gay-lesbian people and I pray that my brothers and sisters will also be convicted to adjust the volume of our message to better reflect the harmony of holiness and grace.

We have been too harsh for too long and it is time to ask ourselves: What matters more?

Reason to Sing – All Sons & Daughters (2013, Live)

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Sometimes worship songs sound incredibly fake and unrealistic.  This reality presents a true dilemma for the Christian.  The Bible calls us to worship our God in spirit and truth, but sometimes we simply don’t feel like a praise song.  Maintaining some level of purity and authenticity in our singing to God is not easy.  In many ways, the real value of worship is blocked off from our hearts because of this tension between holy expectations and the everyday reality of our humanity.

Enter All Sons & Daughters, once again, to build us a bridge between what sometimes might feel impossibly too far away for us to reach.  This is my second time writing about their music and I’m excited to come back to them, especially concerning this issue of transparent worship.

The element that keeps our hearts glued to our God amidst our worship is the element of art.  Of course, theologically speaking, the Holy Spirit is the One who actually accomplishes worthy worship giving within us, even when we ourselves are incapable of offering it.  But on a more tangible level, it is the art of song and prose that deliver a variety of vehicles for us to enter the presence of God, no matter how we feel or what we think.

Please don’t misunderstand.  A song is not a license to just sing whatever you want and call it worship.  It has to be real and it has be right.  But here, we also recognize that different tunes offer different moods and styles so that we can find the one that matches the place where our worship is coming from today.  The Psalms is the bedrock example of this principle.  Their are several kinds of prayers (or songs/poems/etc.) in the Bible, such as songs of praise, lament, royal psalms, imprecation and reflection.  Each style of song, or art, comes out of different seasons of life – and not all good ones!  You can successfully pray and worship when you are sad, mad and bitter.

Sometimes, worship in the lower moments of life is exactly what God uses to help bring us out of the depths of the valley and into His marvelous light.  Listen to All Sons & Daughters in their new, live version of “Reason to Sing”:

When the pieces seem too shattered
To gather off the floor
And all that seems to matter
Is that I don’t feel You anymore
No I don’t feel You anymore

I need a reason to sing
I need to know that You’re still holding
The whole world in Your hands
I need a reason to sing

When I’m overcome by fear
And I hate ev’rything I know
If this waiting lasts forever
I’m afraid I might let go
I’m afraid I might let go oh

Will there be a victory?
Will You sing it over me now?
Your peace is the melody
With You sing it over me now?

I need a reason to sing
I need to know that You’re still holding
The whole world in Your hands
That is a reason to sing

I will sing, sing, sing to my God my King, ‘fore all else fades away;                                        I will love, love, love with this heart in me, for You’ve been good always.

The beauty of this song for me is that it couples together (like many psalms also do) words for the wind with words of timeless truth.  Words for the wind are those thoughts and phrases that don’t necessarily reflect absolute truth, but they capture how I might feel today.  “I need a reason to sing” almost sounds like flat-out disobedience to the Scriptural command to praise God at all times in all circumstances.

Why would we sing to God about needing a reason to sing to God?  It is not because we are trying to defy Him or belittle Him, instead we are expressing our feelings to Him, “God, I don’t feel like I have a reason to sing praises to You today.”

This is perfectly OK to do and God wants to hear your heart, no matter how it sounds.  David says in the Psalms, “God, why have You abandoned me?!” or “God, why are all my enemies improving and I am left to suffer?”  David doesn’t mean these questions literally.  He knows that God never leaves Him and his enemies will not have victory in the end; but he chooses to say to God how he is feeling at the moment and then he lets those words fly away with the wind.

Then our song, just like David, comes back around to the words of timeless truth: God does have the whole world in His hands, including me.  Even in the midst of feeling alone, abandoned, hurt and confused – we can claim God’s infinite truth over our lives.  We can ask God to lay His sovereignty and grace over our broken hearts and lives like a galactic-sized security blanket.

God is both intimately concerned about our true thoughts and feelings as He is about our trust in His character.  We have an endless number of reasons to sing to Him – and some of them include our self expression of both the good and the bad within our true self, the worthy and the pathetic of all that makes us who we really are.  The idea of worship is that you stay connected to Him: head to Head, heart to Heart.

Let music be your tool to keeping communion with Abba, Father and always keep the true you in your tunes for Him!

Sing, O Heavens! O Earth, Rejoice! – CPC (2013, Angel Harp & Human Voice)

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Good Friday has come and gone.  All the Earth is quiet, still and dark as night.  What has happened to our Savior?  Jesus was supposed to save God’s people and now He is dead?  These questions surround the heartbreak of His disciples and friends as they wait for God knows what.  Meanwhile, in the spiritual realm everything has slowed down to a crawl – awaiting the most pivotal moment of all time.
It was as if a volcano was about to erupt and every being, good and evil, fixed their gaze on His grave waiting in anticipation and holding their collective breathe before the biggest moment in salvation history.
Then, on Sunday, Immanuel bursts forth from the dead holding the keys to redemption and eternal life!  And the harmony of praise that He receives from the Heavens and the Earth – angels and humans together – catapults high and loud for all of creation to witness and proclaim!
The resurrection and Jesus’ ascension to honor and authority in Heaven is the subject of our final song for this collection of posts about the Lent/Easter season.  Christ Presbyterian Church in Alabama combined their efforts with some of the folks from Red Mountain to create this album and this tune.  Listen, meditate and celebrate along with the Heavenly hosts!
Sing, O Ye Heavens! O Earth, rejoice!
Angel harp and human voice,
‘Round Him, as He rises, raise,
Your ascending Savior’s praise,
Hallelujah!
All His work and warfare done,
He into His heaven is gone,
and beside His Father’s throne,
now is pleading for His own,
Hallelujah!
 
Hallelujah! Hallelujah!

Asking gifts for sinful man
that He may come down again
And the fallen to restore
In them dwell for evermore
Hallelujah!
Sing, O Ye Heavens! O Earth, rejoice!
Angel harp and human voice,
‘Round Him, in His Glory, raise,
Your ascended Savior’s praise,
Hallelujah!
Jesus would rather die than live without you.  But when He rose again, showing that His love for you comes with supreme power, that was the moment of true victory!
Hallelujah, He is risen!  He is risen, indeed!
And the army of God’s warriors of Heaven play their harps and raise their mighty voices shoulder to shoulder beside you and me…
Listen to John the Revelator paint the scene that inspires our song and hearts:
Then I saw a Lamb that looked as if it had been slaughtered, but it was now standing between the throne and the four living beings and among the twenty-four elders…He stepped forward and took the scroll from the right hand of the one sitting on the throne. And when he took the scroll, the four living beings and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb…And they sang a new song with these words:

“You are worthy to take the scroll
    and break its seals and open it.
For you were slaughtered, and your blood has ransomed people for God
    from every tribe and language and people and nation.
10 And you have caused them to become
    a Kingdom of priests for our God.
    And they will reign on the earth.”

11 Then I looked again, and I heard the voices of thousands and millions of angels around the throne and of the living beings and the elders. 12 And they sang in a mighty chorus:

“Worthy is the Lamb who was slaughtered—
    to receive power and riches
and wisdom and strength
    and honor and glory and blessing.”

13 And then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea. They sang:

“Blessing and honor and glory and power
    belong to the one sitting on the throne
    and to the Lamb forever and ever.”

– Revelation 5:6-13

Alas, and Did My Savior Bleed, Sojourn (2009, Over The Grave)

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Today we close out the Passion aspect of Lent season (I will take the next two weeks on the resurrection) with a song that truly captures the best response that the heart could have to the suffering and death of Christ.  We must consider seriously meditating on how much Jesus did for us: that He laid His life down for sinners like you and me.  We must find a heart of gratitude for these things at the deepest level, no matter how uncomfortable it might be.

Therefore, I am calling out an all-star cast for this occasion.  All-star, meaning our song is a time-tested, hall of fame-like tune performed by a well-loved, veteran group of artists that are at the heart of the “new hymns” movement today.

Without further ado, here is Sojourn performing Isaac Watt’s classic hymn, “Alas, and Did My Savior Bleed” :

Alas! and did my Savior bleed
And did my Sovereign die.
Would He devote that sacred head
For sinners such as I?
His body slain; nailed to the cross
Bathed in his own blood
There received the wrath of God
His soul in anguish stood.
It was for crimes that I had done
That kept him on the tree.
Amazing mercy, matchless grace
And love beyond degree.
When Christ, our own creator died
And took upon our sin
Not even in that darkest hour
Could glory be shut in
My thoughts fixed on His sacrifice
The cross that draws me near
Dissolve my heart in thankfulness
And melt my eyes to tears.
Alas! and did my Savior bleed
And did my Sovereign die.
Would He devote that sacred head
For sinners such as I?
Drops of grief cannot repay
The love I owe to you
Lord, I give myself away
Its all that can do.

I have printed these words out and kept them in my Bible for years now. It seems to capture that initial and essential response to the Cross so perfectly.  It is the very function of worship music to repeatedly take core truths deeper into the heart and mind of the worshipper.

Because of how rich this song is, I encourage all readers to simply focus on the lyrics themselves, more so than my reflections about them.  Re-read the biblical accounts of the crucifixion in companion with this song.  Perhaps intensify things by watching the Passion of the Christ movie in conjunction with your reading and listening to this song.

Don’t let this season pass you by without stepping into the depths of the death of death and sin.  The resurrection is coming and it is supremely grand and important – but it wouldn’t mean a thing if our Savior didn’t bleed for us first.  Watts says is best, “My thoughts fixed on His sacrifice,the cross that draws me near, dissolve my heart in thankfulness, and melt my eyes to tears.

Alas! and did my Savior bleed.”

O Sacred Head, Page CXVI (2012, B-Sides)

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Passion/Resurrection theme continues this week with a powerful old/new number addressing the awful reason why Christ had to die in the first place: us.

Page CXVI is a trio endeavoring to revive old hymns with new musical life.  Their style is one of simplicity and a little shoe-gazing, but beautiful for sure.  Their name?  Well, in their own words, “We got our name from C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia in The Magician’s Nephew. Page 116 in the book (CXVI in roman numerals) is where Aslan begins to sing Narnia into creation. Melody being the driving force behind creation really resonated with us, and we stuck with it!”  Perfect!

“O Sacred Head” was originally a passion hymn from the Dark (or Middle) Ages.  I guess a few things good did come out of such a bleak time period.  The old text has many more verses and “Thees” and “Thous”, but the gist of the lyrics is captured by Page CXVI here:

O sacred Head, now wounded, with grief and shame weighed down,
Now scornfully surrounded with thorns, Thine only crown;
How pale art Thou with anguish, with sore abuse and scorn!
Oh how Your face bends solemn, which once was bright as morn!

Men mock and taunt and jeer Thee, Thou noble countenance,
Though mighty worlds shall fear Thee and flee before Thy glance.
Grim death, with cruel rigor, hath robbed Thee of Thy life;                                                Thus Thou hast lost Thy vigor, Thy strength in this sad strife.

You bled by our hands, You bled!

My burdens You have carried, my sins you have borne,
For it was my transgression which brought this worldly scorn.
I cast me down before Thee, wrath – my rightful lot;
But You have sweet mercy, Redeemer by the cross.

You bled by our hands, You bled for me, for you, for us!

A strikingly personal and hard-edged psalm contemplating the all too well known fact that we (humanity) literally put Jesus on the cross.  Sometimes, we get desensitized by this reality because we’ve heard about it over and over again.  Our numbness grows with each Easter season, and yet reality has never changed…not for the last 2,000 some years.

It is good and fitting and horribly difficult to really meditate on this truth: God bled for us and by our hands.  Isaiah 53 is exactly what our hearts need in order to properly dwell on exactly what Jesus did for us and what we did to Him:

Who has believed our message?
    To whom has the Lord revealed his powerful arm?
My servant grew up in the Lord’s presence like a tender green shoot,
    like a root in dry ground.
There was nothing beautiful or majestic about his appearance,
    nothing to attract us to him.
He was despised and rejected—
    a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief.
We turned our backs on him and looked the other way.
    He was despised, and we did not care.

Yet it was our weaknesses he carried;
    it was our sorrows[a] that weighed him down.
And we thought his troubles were a punishment from God,
    a punishment for his own sins!
But he was pierced for our rebellion,
    crushed for our sins.
He was beaten so we could be whole.
    He was whipped so we could be healed.
All of us, like sheep, have strayed away.
    We have left God’s paths to follow our own.
Yet the Lord laid on him
    the sins of us all.

He was oppressed and treated harshly,
    yet he never said a word.
He was led like a lamb to the slaughter.
    And as a sheep is silent before the shearers,
    he did not open his mouth.
Unjustly condemned,
    he was led away.[b]
No one cared that he died without descendants,
    that his life was cut short in midstream.[c]
But he was struck down
    for the rebellion of my people.
He had done no wrong
    and had never deceived anyone.
But he was buried like a criminal;
    he was put in a rich man’s grave.

10 But it was the Lord’s good plan to crush him
    and cause him grief.
Yet when his life is made an offering for sin,
    he will have many descendants.
He will enjoy a long life,
    and the Lord’s good plan will prosper in his hands.
11 When he sees all that is accomplished by his anguish,
    he will be satisfied.
And because of his experience,
    my righteous servant will make it possible
for many to be counted righteous,
    for he will bear all their sins.
12 I will give him the honors of a victorious soldier,
    because he exposed himself to death.
He was counted among the rebels.
    He bore the sins of many and interceded for rebels.

Yes, Easter is several weeks away.  However, we are not able anymore to just think upon these things and be impacted by them as we should be.  Remember, we are numb.  Therefore, let Lent season serve it’s purpose.  Begin thinking now about the cross by meditating on Christ’s suffering and focus on why He had to endure all that He did.

Imagining the Sacred Head of God’s Son with a crown of thorns and a countenance of ultimate anguish is where we need to start this process of getting all the way through to the empty tomb.  Don’t pass over what is the absolute center of the cross, Easter and the Gospel itself: God died for sinners.  God died.  He bled by our hands…

Approach My Soul, The Mercy Seat – Jamie Barnes (2011, The Split EP)

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Ash Wednesday and Lent season is almost upon us.  Catholic and non-Catholic believers have much to glean from this tradition, if applied in the right way.  Sojourn Church and worship leaders are embracing the value of these events and so I offer this song for the purpose of heart preparation.

Jamie Barnes is on staff with Sojourn and also writes his own music.  This song was inspired by an old hymn by the great hymn writer, John Newton.  Ash Wednesday is not a means of salvation, but rather an opportunity to remember how incredibly damned and dead we are without our Savior – Jesus.  Ashes to ashes.  The Bible exemplifies and calls us to lament and be sorrowful over our sin.

And Lent is a brief season for us to practice sacrifice (electronics, comfort foods, luxuries, etc.) in order to invigorate our prayer lives and reflect upon Christ’s ultimate sacrifice for us on the cross.  It is good and fitting to find music that compliments these pursuits, so that our hearts and minds are prepared for maximizing these exercises.  Listen:

Approach my soul, the mercy seat
Where Holy One and helpless meet
There fall before my Judges’ feet
Thy promise is my only plea, O God

Send wings to lift the clutch of sin
You who dwell between the cherubim
From war without and fear within
Relieve the grief from the shoulders of crumbling men

O God—Pour out your mercy to me
My God, Oh what striking love to bleed.

Fashion my heart in your alchemy
With the brass to front the devil’s perjury
And surefire grace my Jesus speaks
I must. I will. I do believe. O Lord.

I cannot stress enough how important it is for Christians to marinate within the core Gospel truths over and over again.  Ash Wednesday is all about focusing on how close we came to spiritual death and destruction and how incredible it is to be saved by God.  Lent is a time to sharpen our ability to be living within the grace of Gospel truth as we exercise restraint from worldly things (good things or not so good things) in order to make more room for meditating on Christ.  Lent is a great idea any time of year, but especially helpful as it leads us towards the passion of Christ and Easter Sunday.

John Newton understood this and I believe Jamie Barnes does as well with this song.  In addition, we could learn a lot about being a harmonious group of brothers and sisters in Christ – doing honorable traditions together for the sake of purifying Christ’s bride.  God wants us to practice His life within us together.

Paul reminded the church in Rome about these things as it pertained to a controversial issue related to eating food sacrificed to idols:

So why do you condemn another believer? Why do you look down on another believer? Remember, we will all stand before the judgment seat of God. For the Scriptures say, ‘As surely as I live,’ says the Lord, ‘every knee will bend to me, and every tongue will confess and give praise to God.’  Yes, each of us will give a personal account to God.  So let’s stop condemning each other. Decide instead to live in such a way that you will not cause another believer to stumble and fall.

I know and am convinced on the authority of the Lord Jesus that no food, in and of itself, is wrong to eat. But if someone believes it is wrong, then for that person it is wrong.  And if another believer is distressed by what you eat, you are not acting in love if you eat it. Don’t let your eating ruin someone for whom Christ died.  Then you will not be criticized for doing something you believe is good. For the Kingdom of God is not a matter of what we eat or drink, but of living a life of goodness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. If you serve Christ with this attitude, you will please God, and others will approve of you, too. So then, let us aim for harmony in the church and try to build each other up.”

Le me encourage all of us to see these days as an opportunity for better Gospel-centeredness, better self-control, and better Christian community living.  And let us allow songs like this one to lead the way for our souls to better embrace the Mercy Seat.

Lover – Derek Webb (2003, She Must and Shall Go Free)

click on image to listen to song for free. (it’s #5 on the album)

February is here.  Love is in the air, perhaps.  But today’s love song is old, yet unique…romantic, yet tragic.  It is the age old story of boy meets girl, girl plays hard to get, cheats often, and cruelly disregards the treasure of the boy’s love for her.  Boy dies in order to prove love to girl.  Girl appreciates the gesture, but still wanders into other relationships and lesser pleasures, despite the boy’s epic commitment to her and her alone.  And in the end…the boy sets the girl free.  Free from a life of shame and swine, so that boy and girl can be together forever.

Wait, that doesn’t sound like a normal, healthy love relationship to you either?  Nevertheless, it is a rough summary of God’s relationship with the Church.  God always intended to have a sacred place on Earth that we could come and meet with Him.  He never had to give this kind of access to us, but He graciously offers Himself to us in so many ways.  Unfortunately, we have continually and cyclically complained about, ignored, scorned and desecrated these meeting places.

Derek Webb is a pioneer among Christian artists today.  He continues his involvement in the popular band, Caedmon’s Call.  His work with Noisetrade is also worth mentioning, as it serves as one of the best ways for artists and listeners to connect directly and appropriately.  He has been writing music for a long time, including solo projects for the last decade.  Ten years ago, he took on a project that brought a lot of attention and criticism.  A concept album about the state of the Church in America would definitely be a difficult and highly scrutinized ordeal today.  However, it was a prophetic piece and we are in greater need of its message than even last decade.  “She Must and Shall Go Free” includes a song called, “Lover” which is composed from the perspective of Christ speaking to His bride, the Church.

As you listen to the lyrics, consider how reflecting on Jesus’ attitude towards the Temple in the Gospels compares to how He might speak to us, the Church, today:

Like a man comes to an altar, I came into this town
With the world upon my shoulders
And promises passed down
And I went into the water
My father, he was pleased
I built it and I’ll tear it down so you will be set free

I found thieves and salesmen living in my father’s house
I know how they got in here and I know how to get ‘em out
I’m turning this place over from floor to balcony
And then just like these doves and sheep oh you will be set free

I’ve always been a lover from before I drew a breath
Some things I loved easy and some I’ll loved to death
Because love’s no politician, it listens carefully
So of those who come I can’t lose one, so you will be set free

But go on and take my picture, go on and make me up
I’ll still be your defender and you’ll be my missing son
And I’ll send out an army just to bring you back to me
‘Cause regardless of your brother’s lies oh you will be set free
I am my beloved’s and my beloved’s mine
So you bring all your history and I’ll bring the bread and wine
And we’ll have us a party where all drinks are on me
Then as surely as the rising sun oh you will be set free

Ever since the turn of the twenty-first century, America has come down hard on evangelical Christianity.  The younger generations are leaving the church in droves and society isn’t really respecting the Church as a meaningful and positive element of our world.  We only have ourselves to blame for these trends.  We’ve lost our way, once again, and the world is tired of us.

Now, there is no need to push the panic button yet.  There are bright spots here and there and God is certainly active and involved in His bride today.  But, in general, we are failing…we need to return to our First Love and remember the joy of our salvation that still stands strong as the cornerstone of the Church.  We exist to be a lighthouse to a dying world.  Jesus didn’t just die for you and me.  He died and rose again so that we would believe and become His ambassadors.  There is an “us” that we need to submit to and sacrifice for more than we have been willing to embrace as of late.

God knows that we need this reminder often.  Even before He sent His Son, He sent prophets to help us with remembering our place and calling.  One such prophet was Hosea.  Listen: Hosea 2:14-23:

“But then I will win her back once again.
    I will lead her into the desert
    and speak tenderly to her there.
I will return her vineyards to her
    and transform the Valley of Trouble into a gateway of hope…
 When that day comes,” says the Lord,
    “you will call me ‘my husband’
    instead of ‘my master…’
I will make you my wife forever,
    showing you righteousness and justice,
    unfailing love and compassion.                                                                                               I will be faithful to you and make you mine,
    and you will finally know me as the Lord…
I will show love
    to those I called ‘Not loved.’
And to those I called ‘Not my people,’
    I will say, ‘Now you are my people.’
And they will reply, ‘You are our God!’”

God loves His people!  When we actively look to His love together as one, the world will take notice once again (but, in a good way).  When we let God’s love lead us from the inside out, society will favor us once again.  When we humble ourselves, put the Gospel first in our Churches, the unchurched will want what we have.  Jesus is the greatest lover of all and we are His bride.  May He make us worthy of this title and privilege, so that others can be set free, as well!

What Have I Done? (Valjeann’s Soliloquy) – Alfie Boe (1980, Les Miserable)

Click on image to listen to song for free.

I don’t normally do something like this: that is, blog about musicals or incorporate film into this “tunes-based” website.

But, then again, I don’t normally experience something like what happened to me last week.

I went to the movies over the holidays and witnessed the newest adaptation of “Les Miserable” (sorry French geeks, I’m not going to include the accent over the “e”).  It was by far, the best musical film that I have ever seen.  This story, this play, and this song was amazingly performed in the film, capturing the essence of redemption and a changed heart.

For those of you who don’t know, Les Mis is about a man (Jean Valjean) released from prison after serving a 19 year sentence for stealing bread.  It is set in the early 1800’s after the French Revolution and during times of poverty, political upheaval and military dominance.  Valjean is a ruined, hardened ex-con who doesn’t know how to reclaim his life or his dignity when a local bishop offers him grace and a chance at redemption.

Listen to the lyrics as this man struggles with this offer of mercy.  Listen as if he was directly singing about Jesus, Himself:

What have I done?
Sweet Jesus, what have I done?
Become a thief in the night,
Become a dog on the run
And have I fallen so far,
And is the hour so late
That nothing remains but the cry of my hate,
The cries in the dark that nobody hears,
Here where I stand at the turning of the years?

If there’s another way to go
I missed it twenty long years ago
My life was a war that could never be won
They gave me a number and murdered Valjean
When they chained me and left me for dead
Just for stealing a mouthful of bread

Yet why did I allow that man
To touch my soul and teach me love?
He treated me like any other
He gave me his trust
He called me brother
My life he claims for God above
Can such things be?
For I had come to hate the world
This world that always hated me

Take an eye for an eye!
Turn your heart into stone!
This is all I have lived for!
This is all I have known!

One word from him and I’d be back
Beneath the lash, upon the rack
Instead he offers me my freedom
I feel my shame inside me like a knife
He told me that I have a soul,
How does he know?
What spirit comes to move my life?
Is there another way to go?

I am reaching, but I fall
And the night is closing in
And I stare into the void
To the whirlpool of my sin
I’ll escape now from the world
From the world of Jean Valjean
Jean Valjean is nothing now
Another story must begin!

The power of this man’s transformation so closely resembles what the Gospel does to anyone who truly believes and embrace’s it.  Valjean goes on to live out the Gospel in the way he treats other people: offering kindness and forgiveness, withholding malice, loving the broken and sacrificing for those he loves.  Christ demands the same from His own:

“So we have stopped evaluating others from a human point of view. At one time we thought of Christ merely from a human point of view. How differently we know Him now! This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!  And all of this is a gift from God, who brought us back to Himself through Christ. And God has given us this task of reconciling people to Him.”        (2 Corinthians 5:16-18)

I challenge all readers to go and see this film in the theater, simply for the purpose of being lambasted in your soul by the power of this Bible text exemplified in the story of Jean Valjean.  The visual of his torment turned into peace, the sound of this song ringing the Gospel transformation through surround sound – it is a sensory revival that is greatly needed amidst the mind-numbing, desensitization that we face today.  The film intensely captures the close-up shots of Valjean (played by Hugh Jackman) struggling mentally and emotionally as his heart is melted and his soul renewed.

Our stories are our own, but we all must stare into the whirlpool of our sin and wonder whether or not a new story will begin.  If Jesus is your Savior, then your misery has been turned into redemption and you can bellow out from the bowels of your soul along with Valjean, “Instead He offers me my freedom!”

Behold the Lamb of God/The Theme of My Song/Reprise – Andrew Peterson (2004, Behold the Lamb of God)

Click on image to listen to songs for free.

I make no apologies for coming back to this album for the third time this month.  By now, faithful readers will understand that it is my favorite Christmas album.  It is, in fact, an impressive effort to clothe the entire Christmas story with Scripture and musical adornment in a way that presents us with a very good view of both the core and the whole of what Jesus’ birth means to us all.

So, I close these Christmas sessions with the finale of songs from this very album that brings emotion welling up inside of me, literally every time I hear them.

When you click on the image to listen, start with the second to last song and listen on through to the end of the song list.  The first song, “Behold the Lamb of God”, is a call to respond to the summation of the Christmas story.  The active verb of this tune fits perfectly within the heart’s natural response to such a magical and mighty event.  The dictionary defines beholding as “to perceive through sight or apprehension; to gaze upon.”  This is what John the Baptist called out to the gathering crowd when he saw Jesus approaching.  In John 1:29, he literally says, “Look!” or “Behold!  The Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world!”

Here are the lyrics to the first song:                                                                                         Behold, the Lamb of God
Who takes away our sin
Behold the Lamb of God
The life and light of men
Behold the Lamb of God
Who died and rose again
Behold the Lamb of God who comes
To take away our sin
Broken hearts–behold our broken hearts
Fallen far–we need you
Behold the Lamb of God
Son of God–Emmanuel
Son of Man–we need you
Behold the Lamb
The hope of man
Behold the Lamb of God

Then the music blends into the final song, a medley of the entire album.  Snapshot lines from several songs are sung in harmony as these lyrics are chanted in the background:

Glory to Jesus, ancient and strong
Giver of love and the theme of my song
Glory to Jesus, ancient and strong
Come to your people, carry us home
Glory to Jesus, ancient and strong
Ancient and strong

Then the singers align to close with the reprise from the first song, “Gather Round Ye Children” :

So sing out with joy for the brave little boy
Who was God, but He made Himself nothing
Well He gave up His pride and He came here to die like a man                                         So rejoice ye children sing and remember now His mercy                                               And sing out for joy for the brave little boy is our Savior                                                    Son of God, Son of Man                                                                                          Hallelujah!  Sing Hallelujah!

As the song ends, you can hear two amazing things: first, a chorus singing the familiar refrain, “O come let us adore Him, Christ the Lord.”  And the last thing you hear is two children singing the old kid’s praise song:

My God is so big, so strong and so mighty, there’s nothing my God cannot do.              The mountains are His, the rivers are His, the stars are His, too.                                     My God is so big, so strong and so mighty, there’s nothing my God cannot do.

The reason why these songs win my heart each time I hear them is because of how they reflect the “children’s fairy-tale story” side of Christmas and the Bible.  Let me explain by quoting Sally Lloyd-Jones from the first chapter of her book, “Jesus Storybook Bible” :

The Bible is most of all a Story.  It’s an adventure story about a young Hero who comes from a far country to win back His lost treasure.  It’s a love story about a brave Prince whole leaves His palace, His throne – everything – to rescue the ones He loves.  Its like the most wonderful of fairy tales that has come true in real life!  You see, the best thing about this Story is – it’s true.  There are lots of stories in the Bible, but all the stories are telling one Big Story.  The Story of how God loves His children and comes to rescue them.  It takes the whole Bible to tell this Story.  And at the center of the Story, there is a baby.  Every Story in the Bible whispers His name.  He is like the missing piece in a puzzle – the piece that makes all the other pieces fit together, and suddenly you can see a beautiful picture.  And this is no ordinary baby.  This is the Child upon whom everything would depend.  This is the Child who one day would…[jumping to a later chapter]…rescue us because of His never stopping, never giving up, unbreaking, always and forever LOVE!…It had taken centuries for God’s people to be ready, but now the time had come for the best part of God’s Plan.  God Himself was going to come.  Not to punish His people – but to rescue them.  God was getting ready to wipe away every tear from every eye.  And the true party was just about ti begin…

Listening to those children at the end of the song declare the greatness of God so simply and clear, then beholding the biblical fact that God’s intention and will has always been to rescue us and save us from sin and death – how could anything be more wonderful to behold?!  If you are still reading this and you are willing to place your life into the hands of your Rescuer, Jesus Christ; then this IS your story, too!  And it is absolutely real and true!

This Christmas, let go.  Let go of the anger, grief, and sorrow.  Let go of the debates, frustrations, grudges and scorn.  Let go of the things that you have no control over and the things that are never too big for God to handle.  Let go of everything in your heart and make room to behold the Lamb of God who takes away all of these things and replaces the empty space with His infinite, perfect love!  Behold!